Realising Robust Agri-Logistics solutions with Hybrid Communications
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UK food supply chains are facing unprecedented challenges in post-COVID and Brexit trading conditions, with added pressure and complexities. Fresh-produce freight, involving highly perishable products, is increasingly exposed to risks of food waste and significant financial losses through delays in or escalated logistical contingencies.
Currently, some trucks with perishable goods and cargo are equipped with In-Vehicle Systems (IVS) to support the tracking and monitoring of their journey progress. Using cellular-based IoT solutions, these IVS systems send regular data about the location and conditions of the goods to remote platforms. This information can then be analysed by freight operators to monitor progress from ‘farm to fork’.
However, poor or limited terrestrial connectivity along transport routes can significantly impact the ability to collect contiguous data enabling remedial action to be taken should a disruption in routing occur. The use of satellite technology fills this connectivity gap, and is a robust alternative when no terrestrial communication is present or is erratic.
PROJECT OBJECTIVES & PARTNERS
Trusted Bytes is a ground-breaking project laying the foundation for the next generation of supply chain management; providing seamless and trusted sharing of data across the food supply chain. The vision is to drive supply-chain productivity by creating a ‘whole-industry’ interoperable ecosystem for trusted data exchange. The two-year, £2.8M Trusted Bytes project aids compliance and provides real-time ubiquitous digital connectivity between supply chains and central government; increasing efficiencies between stakeholders across borders and within the food supply chain.
To achieve this, the Satellite Applications Catapult and Excelerate Technology have joined a consortium led by Produce Logistics Limited. This consortium also includes Fesa UK Ltd, Worldwide Fruit Ltd, Davis Worldwide Ltd, Hain Daniels, FreshLinc Ltd, ukFPN Lincolnshire, Contained Technologies UK Ltd, British Standards Institution (BSI), University of Lincoln UK, and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.
OUR ROLE IN THE PROJECT
Satellite Applications Catapult is heavily involved in the Ubiquitous Communications work package playing a central role in designing, integrating, and testing hybrid satellite and terrestrial solutions for two use cases: truck monitoring, and shipping container monitoring.
Food transportation vehicles currently use Contained IO solutions (called Octosense), capable of monitoring trailers and transmitting the data back to hubs via cellular networks. This end-to-end system architecture design using Octosense with an existing platform called BlueRing, is at the heart of this project. Adding satellite-derived communication increases the overall data transmission resilience. The solution used for monitoring shipping containers is also done remotely. The result is that by using commercially-available devices, and supporting the integration of data received through Bluering, both truck and shipping container monitoring solutions report data to the same platform.
Extensive tests (in-lab and on the road) have been performed, troubleshooting alongside with partners Excelerate Technologies and Contained IO. During 2022, the Ubiquitous Connectivity at the Satellite Applications Catapult tested the solutions designed at the Future Network Development Centre (FNDC) in Westcott. The result is that a high level of reports and test analytics have been documented as our contribution in the project continues to shape new business cases enabled by ubiquitous connectivity.
Where We Are Now
The results of the tests on lorry and shipping containers, both static and mobile, were highly successful. The data from the In-Vehicle System (IVS) and the In-Container System (ICS) was successfully transmitted via cellular and satellite to Bluering.
In addition, the ability of the Hybrid Satellite/Cellular (HSC) intelligent routing device used to switch between cellular to satellite technology when needed, has been proved.
Overall, the project demonstrated multiple fit-for-purpose options for Agri-logistics solution providers to choose from, based on performance and cost requirements for specific applications in this domain.
There are several additional innovations in progress currently in the space sector, both in terms of the satellite constellations and hybrid user terminals. These innovations offer positive trade-offs for significant benefits in addressing issues for Just-In-Time (JIT), resilience and robustness of connectivity-based solutions.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The trend towards JIT logistics is placing new challenges and pressures on existing logistics practices which calls upon innovative and technological solutions. Satellite-enabled solutions are a vital part of any ecosystem that requires stable data to ensure efficiencies in the transfer of goods. With JIT, comes the need to monitor the state of the goods, actuate devices attached to containers or lorries while they are on-the-go. This will be resolved by a resilient communication platform supporting connectivity in different scenarios where monolithic communication technologies are likely to fail.
Trusted Bytes develops the legal governance structure for the permissioned sharing of immutable data. This is achieved by resolving data interoperability barriers whilst facilitating cross-border trade and, increasing supply chain resilience, visibility, adaptability, and risk management. Trusted Bytes aims to deliver a complete service that can integrate across multiple enterprise resource planning systems, from order to compliance and submission.
Thanks to work done using ubiquitous and ultra-reliable comms, one of the multiple user cases for further development is fresh produce on-the-go ripening. A potential project extension would focus on enabling two-way hybrid communications to facilitate the control of conditions inside the transport vehicle or shipping container. An example of this could be, to release ripening/ripen-delaying gasses or increasing/reducing the temperature to ensure optimal ripening conditions of the produce.